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Groups pressure Senate to end filibuster as Jim Crow relic

UPDATED: Fri., April 9, 2021

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, holds a news conference, Thursday, March 25, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (Jonathan Ernst)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, holds a news conference, Thursday, March 25, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jonathan Ernst)
By Lisa Mascaro Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Nearly 150 groups are calling on the Senate to eliminate the filibuster, saying it is a Jim Crow-era relic that can be used to block an upcoming voting rights bill and other priorities, and should be relegated to the “dustbin of history.”

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer obtained by The Associated Press, the organizations indicated the matter takes on fresh urgency after passage of Georgia’s more restrictive new elections law.

The Senate is poised to consider a sweeping elections and ethics package from Democrats, the “For the People Act,” that would counter the Georgia law and others like it emerging in the states. But it has little chance of breaking past an expected filibuster of opposition from Republicans.

“We call on you to eliminate the filibuster as a weapon that a minority of senators can use to overturn the will of the majority,” said Fix our Senate and a roster of leading progressive and advocacy groups focused on gun control, climate change, immigration and other issues.

“Senate Democrats will soon face a choice: Protect our democracy and pass the For the People Act, or protect the filibuster – an outdated and abused ‘Jim Crow relic’ that deserves to be tossed into the dustbin of history.”

The pressure is mounting on Schumer and the Democrats as time ticks on President Joe Biden’s priorities. With the Senate evenly-split, 50-50, and the Democrats holding just a slim majority in the House, it’s clear that Republicans will be able to easily block bills from passing Congress, which they plan to do.

Any single senator can halt legislation from advancing to a vote simply by signaling an intent to filibuster. Established as a way to allow unlimited debate, the filibuster practice has been sharpened over the years as a procedural weapon to grind action to a halt in the Senate.

To overcome a filibuster takes 60 votes, but some Democratic senators have proposed lowering that threshold to 51 votes, as has been done to allow approval of judicial nominees. But it would take all Democrats to agree to change the rules, and centrists, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are not on board. Senate Democrats hold the slim majority because Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, casts the tie-breaking vote.

The debate ahead carries echoes of the Civil Rights era, when pro-segregation Southerners blocked voting rights and other legislation that sought to undo Jim Crow restrictions on Black Americans. They often halted bills with filibusters, including a record-setter in 1957 by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond.

The election legislation coming before the Senate offers a vivid test case. Already approved by the House as H.R. 1, the sweeping federal package would expanding voting access by allowing universal registration, early voting by mail and other options, undoing some of Georgia’s new law.

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